COLUMBIA — Erin Miller was particularly happy the first time she fell off a horse.
She was riding English-style during a lesson when she was 12 years old. Miller was in a small indoor arena with four other riders when it happened.
"I had a lot of friends who have taken lessons before me and said that 'you're not a real rider until you fall off because that means you haven't been challenged,' " Miller said.
"Once you fall off, you realize it isn't scary. Every time I fall off, I am a way better rider when I get back on."
A music education major at MU, Miller is experienced riding English and Western, two styles of riding that differ in discipline, attire, equipment and technique.
She has started a free-lance business for people in Columbia who need their horses exercised. She believes that consistent workouts make a positive difference in the behavior of horses.
For $20 per hour of riding time, Miller will work a horse for anyone who doesn't have enough time. This might be riders who have a suddenly busy schedule, are pregnant or need to travel out of town.
"Time constraints and physical illness sometimes can keep horses from being exercised enough," Miller said. "I really believe that having a quality exercise rider can allow someone to own a horse that may not be able to otherwise,"
Her fall happened early in her relationship with horses. She was riding behind a draft horse when the riders were instructed to cantor. The draft horse took off, and her horse chased it.
"The draft horse had really long legs," Miller said. "I actually threw myself off of my horse as an instinct. I still have a scar on my wrist from when my hand hit the stirrup."
She had been riding Western before trying English-style, which is flatter and without a saddle horn.
“She felt like she was a real horsewoman at that point,” said Lynette Miller, Erin’s mother, said. “You do have to learn how to fall off.”
Miller said she always wears a helmet, boots to protect her feet from being stepped on and half-chaps to cover the laces so she doesn't get caught in the stirrups.
"My helmet is pretty banged up from some of the falls I've taken, so I know it has been a good choice," she said.
Miller said she is prepared to work with any kind of horse, even those that may be lazy, hyper or spooked.
“A lot of times, behavior problems come from not getting ridden enough,” she said.
When she arrives at a client’s barn, she begins by brushing and tacking the horse. She follows any specific instructions from the client, rides, cools the horse down and puts it back in the stall.
“Usually I’ll start with a half-hour and progress to an hour,” Miller said. “I like to go for an hour, but trail riding takes a little longer.”
Recently, a Columbia couple saw Miller's ad in Craigslist and asked her to horse-sit for a week. They have five miniature horses, two horses, chickens and a cat to be tended.
"I was impressed when I met her with her personality and pleasant attitude," Lisa Stocking said. "She did an excellent job with everything and exercised one of our horses."
Miller stayed at their home during that week. "A lot of people like you to do that in case things go wrong. Horses have more things go wrong with them than most animals do."
Before coming to MU, she exercised horses in Colorado and wants to provide a similar service here.
“Word of mouth is the biggest thing,” Miller said. “It’s about getting connected to the horse community to meet people who need help.”
She was encouraged to start volunteering at Praying Hands Ranch in Parker, Colo., before her parents would take her horse frenzy seriously. Praying Hands Ranch is a Christian-based therapeutic riding center, and she said she spent more than 500 hours volunteering there.
“Her love of horses blossomed at Praying Hands Ranch,” her mother said.
Miller now prefers jumping, a passion that began at age 12 when she started taking lessons.
“When she turned 16, we asked her to pick a horse or a car,” Lynette Miller said. “She picked the horse.”
Besides her interests in horses, Miller has plenty of other things to occupy her time, including the Mizzou Quidditch team and her studies.
"I knew I wanted to study music education since I learned that you could, which was my freshman year of high school," Miller said.
"My junior year I was in an honor band run by a well-known composer of band literature named Jack Stamp. I asked him to recommend some good schools for music education and Mizzou was on the list. I visited and absolutely loved it."
She's passionate about Ireland and hopes she can work with Irish horses some day.
“She’s very generous, I had a girl who wanted to ride and didn’t have an English saddle and she gave her hers,” said Jane Barnes, a former client. “Everything she does, she does well.”